MMA & Me

This is a piece that I just discovered in my files. About five years ago, I began my days at a nearby Mixed Martial Arts gym, which later got hit hard by the pandemic, so I’ve since changed where I work out–not without regret. It was a welcoming place entirely lined with floor mats and festooned with punching bags and mirrors. Most of the trainers were ring champions. Not many of us showed up so early in the morning, but the music blasted and we would soon don gloves and start working out on the bags. We were there to sweat and build muscle, not prepare to go even one round in a cage, but we were learning some of the mentality. Here are a few lessons I learned alongside the punches and other strikes.

Technique plus speed equals power. Focus first on learning the correct form for a strike. Once you’ve mastered it, ramp up your speed. This principle applies to work, too. Master the process first, then focus on becoming faster and more efficient. Do this enough and you’ll find yourself ready for new role, where you can start mastering a new process.

Leave whatever is going on in your life at the door. This space is where you work out. It’s not for taking your problems out on other people. I think that was one of the first things that our trainer told us when we first started. For some reason, that dictate has made it possible to focus only on the present task: jump over this horizontal bag, swing that kettlebell, throw this elbow strike. Having my head clear and focused on the moment for an hour regularly has been a prime benefit and clears it to focus on all other work demands afterward.

If you don’t push, you’re not proud.¬†Don’t take the easy route. Every day aim for more pushups, higher kicks, harder strikes, deeper lunges.

It’s okay to suck and not to be the best. ThIs was a decision I made early on. But it was a tough hurdle. Because I had to give up my pride in excelling when I joined this gym. I had to accept that I would never be the best. (Did I mention that one of these guys was a state champion?) At my age, I will never be the swiftest or most agile. But I’m learning, and over even those first months I became more fit than some of the guys that showed up only occasionally.

Switch things up so that you remain flexible in your approach.

Keep working even if conditions aren’t ideal. The gym was too hot in the summer. We worked out anyway. The gym started out icy in the winter. We work out anyway. You need water? Finish three rounds of sit-ups, squats, and jumpovers before you head for your water bottle. If you find yourself in a fight, you’re going to need to tough it out.

You succeed by going to failure. This is the concept that has been most important to me, and it helped me start my own non-profit. The idea is that it doesn’t matter if you finish doing, say, all 100 reps. You do the reps until you can’t go any further: you “go to failure.” That’s success: going to failure.

So: I’ll never be a real MMA fighter, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be using some of that mind-set in my new gym, in my non-profit, in whatever I find myself doing now and in the future.

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